WASHINGTON – The cases of unsolved and unpunished killings have contributed to a “climate of impunity” in the Philippines, according to the US State Department.
In its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2006, the State Department said that during the year, a number of unexplained killings in the Philippines were committed “apparently by elements of the security services and of political killings, including killings of journalists, by a variety of actors.”
The report released on Tuesday said civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces though some rogue elements committed human rights abuses.
“Many of these killings went unsolved and unpunished, contributing to a climate of impunity, despite intensified government efforts during the year to investigate and prosecute these cases,” the report said.
The report said aside from killing government officials and civilians, communist rebels were suspected in many of the deaths of left-wing activists.
The NPA, as well as some Islamic separatist groups, was also responsible for a number of illegal detentions, often in connection with informal courts set up to try military personnel, police, local politicians, and other persons for “crimes against the people,” the report added.
The State Department said arbitrary or warrantless arrests and detentions were common in the Philippines.
“Corruption was a problem in all the institutions making up the criminal justice system, including police, prosecutorial, and judicial organs,” the report said.
The report said trials were delayed and procedures were prolonged, while the prisoners are awaiting trial and those already convicted were often held under “primitive” conditions.
Leftwing and human rights activists were often subject to harassment by local security forces, the report added.
The report said the New People’s Army (NPA) assassinated local government officials, soldiers, police officers and ordinary civilians, and were suspected in many of the killings of leftwing activists.
The NPA and terrorist groups also sent children into combat, the report added.
The State Department cited reports of widespread corruption among prison guards.
“Corruption appeared to be a problem at higher levels of authority within the prison system as well,” the report said. “Favored inmates reportedly enjoyed access to prostitutes and drugs.”
“Guards sometimes demanded that prisoners pay to receive food, to use sanitary facilities, and to avoid beatings by other prisoners. Jail administrators reportedly delegated to senior inmates authority to maintain order.”
The report said prison conditions in the Philippines were “rudimentary and sometimes harsh.”
Provincial jails and prisons were overcrowded, lacked basic infrastructure, and provided prisoners with an inadequate diet, the report added.
The report said jails managed by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology in Metro Manila usually operated at about 240 percent of designed capacity.
A jail decongestion program resulted in the early release, using applicable laws, of more than 3,500 inmates, the report added.
The BJMP’s establishment of new facilities for women inmates and its implementation of the new law on juvenile justice also contributed to the decrease in jail overcrowding from 2005, the report said.
The report said prison administrators budgeted a daily subsistence allowance of about $0.78 (P40) per prisoner.
Prison inmates often depended on their families for food because of the insufficient subsistence allowance and the need to bribe guards to receive food rations, the report added.
Meanwhile, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has recorded 12 journalists killed last year, the report said.
In its 2005 Country Reports on Human Rights released last year, the State Department report named the PNP as the “worst abuser” of human rights in the country.
The US State Department said human rights abuses remain pervasive in the country and that the administration’s “pervasive weakness” in enforcing the rule of law as well as “official impunity.”
Quoting the Commission on Human Rights, the report said the PNP is the “worst abuser of human rights” because of “arbitrary, unlawful, and extrajudicial killings by elements of the security services; political killings, including journalists, by a variety of actors, which often go unpunished; disappearances.”
The US State Department reviews human rights practices in 196 countries.
The country report was based on the incidents reported and events that transpired last year.
It did not take into account the developments in the country this year and after President Arroyo’s declaration of Proclamation 1017 that placed the country under a state of national emergency on Feb. 24, 2006, when police arrested leftist leaders and critics of Mrs. Arroyo.
The CHR investigated 296 complaints of killings between January and November, compared with a total of 453 complaints of killings in 2005.
In Angeles City in Pampanga, Armed Forces Northern Luzon Command (Nolcom) chief Lt. Gen. Bonifacio Ramos challenged yesterday human rights groups to also probe the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-NPA in Central Luzon whom he accused of committing at least 290 “violent incidents,” including 115 murders in the past five years.
“NPA killings or executions constitute about 46 percent of the total number of such incidents that occurred in practically all provinces of the region,” he said.
Ramos said since 2002, violent incidents included 115 killings of 43 civilians, 10 suspected military assets or informers, 10 NPA “purgings,” three retired police or armed forces personnel, 14 barangay officials, five militiamen, 21 policemen and nine soldiers.
“Human rights violations committed by the CPP-NPA seem to be sidestepped by Karapatan and other supposedly independent investigative bodies because their focus is on the alleged accountability of the military with regards to the unexplained killings in the country,” he said.
Records show that from 2002 up to the present, the NPA in Central Luzon perpetrated some 290 violent incidents, ranging from ambushes, harassments, raids, attacks, liquidations, arson, disarming incidents, ransackings and abductions, he added.
Ramos said NPA murder victims include five Armed Forces and police officers:
• Superintendent Tomas San Miguel de Armas, chief of police of Angat, Bulacan who was murdered in Porac, Pampanga in March 2005;
• 1Lt. Jerry Morado who was shot dead by the NPA while he was negotiating for the surrender of some NPA rebels in Barangay Sapang Uwak, Porac, Pampanga in March 2005;
• 2Lt. Rolly Aganon who was killed in Guimba, Nueva Ecija in September 2005;
• Inspector Antonio Cortez was murdered in San Jose City in February 2006; and
• 1Lt. Paul Fortuny, who was slain in Calumpit, Bulacan in July 2006.
“It is grossly unfair for Karapatan and other self-proclaimed protectors of human rights to turn a deaf ear if a soldier or a police gets killed by the NPA,” he said.
“The message that Karapatan is conveying to the public is very clear – It is all right to suffer and die in the hands of the enemy if you are with the government. Please be reminded that soldiers and police have their rights, too, just like any ordinary citizen of this republic.”
Ramos said families of innocent civilians and those who have renounced their ties with the NPA had to suffer in the hands of the rebels, while human rights groups pretend to be oblivious of their predicament.
“Have you ever heard Karapatan denounce the killings of rebel returnees or condemn the bloody purging of CPP, NPA, and the National Democratic Front members?” he asked.
Ramos mentioned Lope Lapusan, a former NPA leader in Tarlac whose son, also an NPA member, was killed by their comrades “simply because his father decided to abandon their armed struggle.”
“The elder Lapusan exposed several atrocities perpetrated by the NPA in the province including the murder of some barangay officials and other members of the community who defied the enemy’s imposition,” he said.
Charges were filed in court against the suspects, but that the case has not progressed due to lack of witnesses, he added.
Ramos accused the NPA not only of killings, but also of “economic sabotage” by destroying vital communications facilities and other infrastructure.
The NPA is responsible for the burning of construction equipment in Aurora and Bulacan, Globe cell sites in Bataan, Pampanga and Tarlac, and passenger buses in Bataan, Bulacan, Tarlac and Nueva Ecija, he added.
These incidents were in retaliation for the refusal of owners of the properties to yield to the NPA’s demands for “revolutionary taxes,” which he dismissed as extortion, Ramos said.
—Jose Katigbak And Pia-Lee Brago, The Philippine STAR with Ding Cervantes